Twelve years ago, Adam Pascal had never been in a play. He was a rocker who worshiped heavy metal bands. He even had their album art airbrushed onto his denim jacket.
He was working as a personal trainer in New York when he decided, on a whim, to audition for a new musical called Rent. He got the part.
"I wasn't expecting much,'' Pascal said the other day from the back yard of his house in Los Angeles. "I was more like, 'Okay, how am I going to keep my (personal trainer) job while I rehearse all day and do the show at night?' ''
Four months later, Pascal was on the cover of Newsweek, as Rent's tormented songwriter, Roger, with his drug addict-stripper girlfriend, Mimi, played by Daphne Rubin-Vega.
Today, Rent is still going strong, with the latest touring production playing Ruth Eckerd Hall this week. Loosely based on the opera La Boheme, the musical is a phenomenon, widely credited with bringing young people to the theater. Pascal was in the 2005 movie version, returned to the Broadway company for a limited engagement last summer, and will be in a new tour for six months next year.
Pascal will be at the Clearwater hall on Thursday, giving a concert after that night's performance of Rent, with pianist Larry Edoff. Pascal, who plays bass and guitar, and Edoff have a new CD, Blinding Light.
"The music we're doing is a really interesting combination of the rock background and musical theater background that I come from, while Larry is like a jazz, world music kind of guy, but he's also a great pop songwriter,'' Pascal said. "I like performing this way as a duo because it creates intimacy with the audience.''
Along with material from the CD and Pascal's two earlier solo recordings, the pair will perform several Broadway standards ("radically rearranged,'' Pascal said), such as Maria from West Side Story, What I Did for Love from A Chorus Line and Roger's Rent anthem One Song Glory.
Pascal had not been in a stage production of Rent for almost a decade before going back into the show last year along with Anthony Rapp, the original Mark. "I had my concerns, but it turned out to be a really great experience. It was something I never thought I'd do, but I'm glad I did it,'' he said.
No lack of work
The Broadway production of Rent was scheduled to close in June, but the run has been extended through the summer. Next year's tour will include both Pascal and Rapp.
"It's a great job to have,'' he said. "I'm thrilled that all these years later I can do it at a time in my life when a really high-paying job like that, they're kind of few and far between. I'm lucky that it all came together.''
At 37, Pascal is older than Roger is supposed to be. There was some criticism of the movie, directed by Chris Columbus, for reuniting most of the musical's original cast (the only principal missing was Rubin-Vega) when all were a bit long in the tooth for their youthful characters.
"Quite frankly, there have been lots of people over the years who played these parts that have been in their 30s,'' Pascal said.
After Rent, Pascal went on to star in other Broadway shows, including Aida, in which he played Radames, and as the Emcee in a revival of Cabaret. In May, he, Idina Menzel (the original Maureen from Rent and Elphaba from Wicked) and crooner Josh Groban will be featured in a London concert version of Chess, the musical with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, formerly of ABBA.
Chess, which uses an international chess match as a metaphor for the cold war, has never really jelled, despite several ambitious efforts over the years. "There are songs in that show that are on par with anything that has ever been done, but there's something missing that has caused it never to have had a commercially successful run,'' Pascal said.
On his own now
Pascal remains a rocker at heart. He always considered Rent more musical theater than rock, arguing that its creator, the late Jonathan Larson, was "a theater guy doing his interpretation of rock and pop stuff, not a rock guy doing his interpretation of musical theater.''
He thinks Duncan Sheik's score for Spring Awakening, last year's Tony winner for best musical, rocks harder than Rent ever did. "You can take a number of those songs right out of the show and pop them on the radio,'' Pascal said. "They're radio friendly melody-wise and arrangement-wise. That's not the case with songs from Rent.''
Pascal's first two albums, Model Prisoner and Civilian, were on small independent labels and sold about 15,000 and 25,000 copies, respectively, he said. He is releasing Blinding Light on his own label.
"I have the means to do it myself, and it didn't make sense for me to continue to make records and just give somebody else all the money,'' he said. "If I sold 100,000 records, which is not a completely outrageous number, I would make more money than if I sold 5-million records for a commercial label.''
Besides, he said, iTunes and other Internet music sales sites make the major record labels irrelevant. "One of the main things a record label does for an artist is distribution; it gets records into stores. Well, there are no record stores anymore.''
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.